Environmental Influences on the Epigenome: Exposure- Associated DNA Methylation in Human Populations

Annu Rev Public Health. 2018 Apr 1;39:309-333. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040617-014629. Epub 2018 Jan 12.


DNA methylation is the most well studied of the epigenetic regulators in relation to environmental exposures. To date, numerous studies have detailed the manner by which DNA methylation is influenced by the environment, resulting in altered global and gene-specific DNA methylation. These studies have focused on prenatal, early-life, and adult exposure scenarios. The present review summarizes currently available literature that demonstrates a relationship between DNA methylation and environmental exposures. It includes studies on aflatoxin B1, air pollution, arsenic, bisphenol A, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, persistent organic pollutants, tobacco smoke, and nutritional factors. It also addresses gaps in the literature and future directions for research. These gaps include studies of mixtures, sexual dimorphisms with respect to environmentally associated methylation changes, tissue specificity, and temporal stability of the methylation marks.

Keywords: environment; epigenetics; human studies; molecular epidemiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects
  • Benzhydryl Compounds / toxicity
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Metals / adverse effects
  • Phenols / toxicity
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology


  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Metals
  • Phenols
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • bisphenol A